Communication competence and new challenges for politicians: From public speaking to live tweeting

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  • Thank the section for Interpersonal Communication and Social Interaction for the invitation.Thank the chair Dorthe Refslund Christensen.

    My lecture focuses on communication competence of politicians, which I have studied for the past 20 years from various perspectives.The subtitle From public speaking to live-tweeting indicates that I will have a sort of historical perspective.


  • Since antiquityDevelopment of rhetoric

    Public speaking is seen as an essential skill for politicians

    Communication competence is seen as important for politicians

    -Public speaking skills have always been one of the key abilities of politicians. During antiquity, public speaking was heavily emphasized in the birthplace of democracy and rhetoricancient Greece.We can say that speaking skills have always been important for politicians.


  • Public speaking is still important

    The rhetoric of politicians still draws a lot of attention around the world. From my personal experience, I can say that I have many times been surprised at how well our top politicians speak in front of a live audience.

    The era of public speaking started in antiquity but still continues. Our empirical observations also support this.


  • Evaluations and descriptions of public speaking skills were mentioned most often in the newspaper data.37% of all mentions of communication skills.In an interview of party leaders, public speaking skills were mentioned briefly (18%).It is clear that if you have a good command of rhetoric, it helps a lot.

    In our study we also noticed this.We analyzed four newspapers during a six-month period and collected all evaluations and descriptions concerning the leading Finnish politiciansWe also interviewed the leaders of all parliamentary parties, for a total of 8 party leaders.In the interviews, they seemed to think that these skills are basic requirements and obviously essential in the political field.


  • In Newspapers:Must have something to say.Politicians are too often:Verbose, nonspecific, rambling not fluentLacking openness, colour and charisma.Positive characteristics: plausible, charismatic, clear, understandable.

    Voters are watching politics through persons. A charismatic, quick-witted leader is a great help for a party (Aamulehti, 1 June 2008).

    Good public speaking skills were highly valued.

    We can say that there was an era of public speaking when it was the most important form of political communication.


  • Era of Mass MediaFrom public speaking to media skills.Parties began to teach politicians how to communicate with the press.The newspapers were for a long time the primary medium.Gradually radio became important.From the 1960s, television has been the central medium.

    In recent years, communication competence in regards to the media has become more and more important for politicians. Parties have always been very quick and clever to learn how to reach voters in the best possible way. Therefore, they have also educated politicians for that very purpose.Earlier politicians had to deal only with newspapersBut television has profoundly increased the significance of communication competence among politicians.


  • Media SkillsAlmonkari & Isotalus 2012In newspapers 41%Understanding the role of media: 22% of all mentions of communication skillsRelations with journalist: 6%In interviews 36%The biggest class of communication skills was media skillsRelationships with journalists: 14%Understanding the media: 6%

    Statements of understanding media logic, media functions and its role and influence in publicity.Political leaders should not believe that they can manipulate the media to their advantage and somehow guarantee favourable publicity for their party or favourable images of themselves.All party leaders agreed that media skills are highly relevant in their work.Many of them had observed that the importance of media skills has grown in recent years.


  • The television debates

    They have been studied a great deal.The most studied oral communication situation in the political context.More studied their effects on voters.The US presidential elections have been especially studied.

    I want to raise this special communication context, because it has had a strong influence on how the communication competence of politicians is studied.The debates have established a prominent role in political campaigning nearly everywhere.In many countries, the debates are the most followed events of election campaigns.TV debates are widely studied, and the research indicates that how the candidates communicate (both verbally and nonverbally) during these events is crucial.


  • The starting point

    - The television debate between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960.It was seen that Kennedy won the debate because of good communication / performance.Nixon was seen to fail.The debate showed that communication really matters in television.It was a turning point in the importance of politicians communication skills.It wasnt until 16 years before the next presidential debate was organized.


  • Functional Theory of Campaign DiscourseThree types of discourse:AttackDefenceAcclaim

    Developed by William Benoit.Widely used theory in the research of political debates.Developed for the US presidential campaigns.The theory is based on rhetorical perspective.Main point: The campaign discourse is instrumental, a means to a desired end.The desired end is securing enough votes to win the election.Attack = Candidates may attack their opponents by addressing their undesirable character or policy position.Defence = If a candidate decides to respond to attacks.Acclaim = Candidates may acclaim their positive characteristics or their policy position.From the perspective of communication competence, the central skills are attack, defence and acclaim.However, I have noticed in my studies that the theory does not fit the Finnish debates, because:We rarely have any direct attacksAcclaims are rare.


  • Cultural differencesThe Functional Theory does not fit Finland.Isotalus & Aarnio (2006)In Finland, it is more a question of agreement and disagreement.Discourse is oriented to past, present and future.

    - However, according to my studies, competent performance during televised debates may be strongly influenced by culture.*

  • Television performanceTelevision has emphasized the communication competence of politicians.Nonverbal communication is central in television.Image of a politician is important.It has been predicted for 20 years that the role of television would diminish in politics.There is hardly any evidence for that.It is still a central medium in politics.

    The era of mass media and especially of television seems to continue.The media have grown important enough in societies to influence nearly all fields.In politics, the media have a very profound effect.Therefore, one speaks about the mediatization of politics.


  • Mediatization of PoliticsDescribes the changes (process) of political communication.Emphasizes the influence of the media in this process.Strmbck (2011) considers mediatization of politics as a multidimensional concept that includes distinct yet interrelated dimensions.One of the dimensions focuses on political actors and the degree to which they are governed by media logic or political logic.

    Nowadays, mediatization of politics is the most studied area in political communication.Mediatization is sometimes seen as a theory, and sometimes it is not.It is argued that many features of political communication have changed because of the media.From the perspective of politicians, it is seen that they adapt to the logic of the media.They begin to think about the best way to achieve publicity through the media.They modify their messages to fit well with the media.


  • PersonalizationIt refers to a stronger focus on candidates or politicians instead of parties, institutions or issues.It claims that it is not only individuals per se, but their personal non-political characteristics that assume greater relevance.Describes the growing importance of the persons in politicsAdam & Maier (2010):

    Personalization is seen to relate closely to mediatization.It is seen as a part of mediatization.It is also seen as a process, a development.It means that the persons and their characteristics are growing more and more important than their parties.Personalization emphasizes the significance of communication skills of politicians, because it emphasizes individuals and their characteristics.This also means that communication skills are continually growing more important in politics.


  • Personalization (Van Alest et al. 2012)

    Van Aelst, Sheafer and Stanyer have defined personalization more carefully.In their definition, personalization consists of two dimensions.These are individualization and privatization.Individualization = Focus on individual politicians as central actors in the political arena.General visibility means visibility of all individual politicians.Concentrated visibility visibility of a limited number of political leaders.Privatization = a shift in media focus from the politician as occupier of a public role to the politician as a private individual, as a person distinct from the public role.Personal characteristics relate to political traits.Personal life means non-political characteristics.


  • Privatization An example of personal life

    In my latest paper, I studied privatization of politics during the recent presidential election in Finland.Here are the presidential candidates and their spouses from the second round of the election.As you can see, there was a stra